Janet Hagisavas, senior teacher and director of the Teacher Training Program at the Edmonton School of Ballet felt that this excerpt from the Dancing Times was relevant for all of our dancers, teachers and parents.
Rest is an important issue. Why is it so difficult to find time for a break? Dance is an all-encompassing activity with long performance and training schedules and increasingly difficult
technical and artistic demands. Dance pushes physical and artistic boundaries, and the rewards of this (seemingly) tireless drive for growth are visible on stages and in classrooms across the world. However, rest is a key component of training and performance to keep dancers in an optimum state of health and well being.
There is no doubt that hard work is an expectation - in fact, a requirement - to achieve the physical and artistic beauty of dance. Many dancers believe that practicing as much as possible results in the best performance, but the way you train is much more important than how much you do.
Rest is anything that gives you a break, either physical or mental. Professional dancers typically work
long hours and push their bodies hard in the studio and on stage, but rest can make the difference between a strong performance and exhaustion and injury. As Matt Wyon, professor of Dance Science at the University of Wolverhapton, says: "Quality of training is more important than hours danced. Optimal learning occurs when dancers are not tired, and therefore rest is a fundamental training strategy."
When dancers work too hard, they may suffer from burnout. Caused by many factors including emotional, physical and mental stress, lack of rest and/ or excessive training, burnout is a syndrome where dancers experience consistent or unexplained tiredness, emotional changes, frequent illness
and injury, poor performance and decreases in interest and motivation. Whilst it's easy to keep pushing and think problems will go away, any burnout warning signs should be addressed immediately.
Busy class, rehearsal and performing schedules (not to mention a dancer's personal drive for perfection) may also result in overtraining and injury. Artistic and administrative staff can
plan training to allow dancers to reach a mental, physical and technical peak in time for performance. This process - called periodisation - involves careful planning of training intensity. Reducing activity just before performance (tapering), gives time for dancers to switch from preparation to performance mode. In this method, it's important to decrease technical classes as rehearsals increase, and
to allow for greater rest time.
Fitness is another key to helping dancers perform at their best, and research has even shown that fitter dancers have greater artistic abilities than their less fit counterparts. It makes sense that strength, flexibility, endurance and coordination can help a dancer perform well, but fitness is more than training. The International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) includes rest as a key component of fitness for dancers.
Rest is so important because it allows the brain and body time to assimilate and store what has been
learned each day, improving both memory and performance quality. Adding rest periods (equal in length to work periods), both between exercises and between classes, can aid learning and memory of technical skills. Rest obviously reduces fatigue, but also decreases the risk of overuse of injuries
and helps speed up the repair of muscles following exercise.
There are many ways to integrate rest periods into even the most hectic schedules. Taking time to review movements and choreography mentally alongside physical practice is a great tool for learning, and has been shown to be more effective than physical rehearsal alone. Health and technique can both
be optimised by considering and planning the intensity and amount of dancing to avoid sudden increases and over training. Having healthy meals and snacks readily available is helpful, as it allows dancers to relax during breaks rather than spending time finding food. It can also be useful to develop interests outside of dance. Whether doing yoga, reading a book or going to the cinema, non-dance
activities give dancing muscles, both literal and metaphorical, a break.
Most of all, dancers should focus on the quality of training rather than the quantity. It's all part of
a healthy, balanced dancing life to take occasional breaks. ·